Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
From lying bottom of League One in the November of last season to gaining promotion via the playoffs at the end of it, Barnsley know how to do turnarounds.
This season’s has been decent too, moving from 17th to 10th following a run of 5 wins from their last 8 games in a run that started, once again, at the end of November.
Separated from the Championship top 6 by 7 points, manager Paul Heckingbottom may be tempted to glance upwards after the promotion drive of last term.
Any rise in aspiration will be severely tested this weekend however as they welcome Leeds to Oakwell in a Yorkshire derby.
Leeds have been on their own run of excellent form, dropping just 14 points out of their last possible 60, and Garry Monk’s side are third after a thoroughly one-sided victory over Derby County last Friday.
Leeds will travel down the M1 knowing that a goal-scoring forward is the integral component to a promotion charge and they have one in Chris Wood; his header in the win over Derby moved him up to 14 for the campaign.
The post-Winnall era
Barnsley will not have their top-scorer lining up for them however as Sam Winnall, with 11 to his name, switched to Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the January window.
Life after the striker has started bluntly, with 0 goals scored in the FA Cup tie at Blackpool, who knocked the Tykes out in Tuesday’s replay, and in a defeat at Fulham.
That Barnsley, boosted by a financial windfall received in the summer from Everton’s sale of John Stones, decided to sell Winnall to a direct rival only two places above them raised eyebrows, and the club’s ambitions are set to be further tried by Wednesday, as well as Aston Villa, in their pursuit of club captain Conor Hourihane, who is out of contract in the summer.
Wednesday have already had a bid rejected for Hourihane who has assisted more goals than anybody else in this season’s Championship and Carlos Carvalhal’s logic of wanting to reunite the Winnall-Hourihane partnership is clear; only Huddersfield’s Elias Kachunga and Tommy Smith have combined for more goals this term than their five.
Further strain on their resolve will be placed by Burnley’s £3.5 million bid for centre-half Marc Roberts while Norwich are preparing a £1.5 million bid for his defensive partner Angus MacDonald, who only joined the club from National League side Torquay last summer.
Roberts could be missing on Saturday due to the injury he suffered on Tuesday night but any potential departure will be a hammer-blow to a club that, having lost Stones, Mason Holgate and Alfie Mawson in recent years, can’t seem to maintain a centre-half partnership.
Victim of their own success
Heckingbottom has said the club has become a victim of their own rapid success, which has involved a lot of promoting their own, with James Bree impressing this year, as well as trawling the lower rungs of the pyramid for the likes of Andy Yiadom and Roberts, who arrived from non-league Halifax.
Low-budget contracts to talents who immediately settle in at a higher level opens, as Heckingbottom acknowledges, the market for vultures able to offer more opportunity for success as well as a bigger payday.
The confusion caused by the unexpected departure of Linton Brown as Chief Executive earlier this month hasn’t helped either, while Barnsley fans will hope Heckingbottom won’t have his own head turned by Nottingham Forest’s apparent interest in the coach following their sacking of Phillipe Montanier.
Leeds enter the Yorkshire derby cast in a rare role as the more stable club, even with the notorious Massimo Cellino still involved after his 50% sale to Italian TV rights mogul Andrea Radrizzani.
On the field things have run just as smoothly, with Hadi Sakho, Pablo Hernandez and Kemar Roofe, beginning to show his vast talents on a regular basis, pulling the strings behind the prolific Woods.
Dealing with Dean
Heckingbottom, with his squad vulnerable to the January sales, requires a plan to deal with that, while Barnsley could also do without the sideshow of referee-cum-celebrity Mike Dean being handed the match thanks to his demotion from Premier League officiating.
Dean finds himself in the Championship after a series of glaring errors in recent games, but it is a punishment that strikes as condescending given the level of scrutiny match officials now attract.
Surely it would be more beneficial to leave Dean out of the firing line for a few weeks to reduce the pressure rather than assigning him a game in-front of the Saturday evening TV cameras just because it is at a lower-level?
His decisions matter just as much at Championship level as they do in the Premier League and it is unfair on Barnsley and Leeds, given the respective contexts in which they enter the game, to be handed an official who will be under such intense monitoring.
A huge weekend
The Championship has long since ceased to be a dumping ground for what isn’t good enough for the top tier and Barnsley and Leeds will attest to that as they prepare for a huge weekend in Yorkshire.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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